I was born in Dublin in 1947 and lived there until l left in 1986. During that time l wasn’t particularly aware of being Irish. Of course there were occasions, like The 5 Nations Rugby Championship when Ireland won a match and we would all go berserk! Or when our President was seen presenting shamrock to the American President at the White House on St. Patrick’s day.
“But it wasn’t until I left Ireland that I became aware of being Irish.”
It was a proud moment too when we won the Eurovision Song Contest, with Dana singing “All kinds of everything remind me of you”. It didn’t stop there, we won many more Eurovision Song Contests, 7 in fact. Good man Johnny Logan, who won twice! Then we had River Dance, putting Irish traditional dancing on the world map. A proud moment indeed!
But it wasn’t until I left Ireland that I became aware of being Irish.
I took a French course at Alliance Française in the old Kildare Street Club building. There I found a summer course for beginners in Montpellier. Many of my first encounters with the French began with “Bonjour “ which would result in a sudden withdrawal of the hand and “Oh! You must be English!” When l replied that I was Irish, a big smile emerged and the hand extended again to shake mine saying that I was indeed very welcome. The opposite would happen when l put on my best English accent to say “Good morning” to an Englishman, who would look down at me, saying “Oh! You must be Irish!”
Bringing my Danish girlfriend to Ireland for the first time, she was asked by the immigration officer how long she intended to stay in Ireland? She replied that she didn’t really know. The officer said, “Well with a smile like that Miss, you can stay as long as you like!”
Or when an Englishman came to visit me in County Wicklow and asked an Irishman how to get to the N11, the Irishman replied, “Ah! You mean the old Wexford road! Turn left at the traffic lights and then follow the road and when you pass the where the old jam factory USED TO BE take the next right and you’re on the old Wexford road”.
But perhaps the greatest feeling of being Irish comes at Christmas time when we all try to get back to Ireland to be with our families. Walking down Grafton Street, seeing everyone greeting everyone even if we don’t know each other!
But we do, because we are all Irish.